Speaker: Mahatma Gandhi
An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.
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This famous line was (not really) spoken by Mahatma Gandhi.
It's always nice when things work out fairly. But we're guessing the authors of Exodus weren't being super literal when they talked about "an eye for an eye"—someone losing an eye in exchange for someone else losing an eye probably isn't in anyone's best interests.
It basically means that when something awful is done by someone, they deserve to have the same thing done to them. Like…if some goober drops and breaks your MacBook, then it's only fair for you to take his MacBook and break it.
Well, Gandhi wasn't on board with that. His quote "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind" is saying that if we keep punishing those we deem cruel, then we're no better than the bad guys ourselves. It's the whole "you can't solve violence with violence" spiel.
To be fair, there is some uncertainty as to whether Gandhi actually ever said these words, and even if he did, how it went exactly. Here are a few versions:
- An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.
- An eye for an eye only makes the world blind.
- An eye for an eye will make the world blind.
- An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.
Whether this was his line or not, Gandhi probably did enough good stuff in his lifetime to make the question moot. In the meantime…we'll just give it to him. He's earned it.
Where you've heard it
People just loooove to quote Gandhi. Not that that's a bad thing. He had a lot of uplifting, positive stuff to say. If he was ever in a crabby mood, he sure didn't let it show.
You'll find this phrase in a lot of places where someone's trying to be inspirational or encouraging others to "turn the other cheek," like in this political article or in this anthology of poetry.
If you were to drop this quote at a dinner party, would you get an in-unison "awww" or would everyone roll their eyes and never invite you back? Here it is, on a scale of 1-10.
We'd normally give a line like this a 6 or 7, considering how grandiose the statement is—and the fact that it's taking a common figurative adage and making it literal. But it's Gandhi. He's allowed to get away with a bit more than most.
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...How would you feel, if you were convicted of a heinous crime, and you were about to be put to death? Worse yet, what if you were about to be put to death and you were innocent? According to Webster’s Online Dictionary, “Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is the execution of a person by the state as punishment for a crime.” Why does the United State use this “eye for an eye” concept? It seems like such a medieval practice, one in which we continue to use in a civilized time. One professor of law explains that, “because of the goals that our criminal justice system must satisfy – deterring crime, punishing the guilty, acquitting the innocent, avoiding needless cruelty, treating citizens equally, and preventing oppression by the state – American simply does not have that kind of capital punishment system” (Greenberg 1670). Let’s face it, our justice system doesn’t always get it right, and more than likely it never will. So, why does our government use this as a common practice? The United States should consider abolishing all forms of capital punishment because it is not a perfect system, there will always be a risk executing innocent people, studies show that it does not deter crime, nor can it undo the damage that has been done. Reports also state that it is not cost effective, and in a few instances executions can be inhumane. Indeed, the number one argument against capital punishment is the risk of executing convicted...